One of the courses I’m taking this semester is called Rural Development and it’s offered through Leiden’s cultural anthropology and developmental sociology departments. We’re looking at rural poverty and environmental degradation. How small scale farmers in developing nations usually have the most agricultural and land-based knowledge to share. How that knowledge and their well-being are usually overlooked. It’s a fascinating and humbling look at how we get our food, how people make their lives, how interconnected the world is.
My professor believes we need to understand farming in The Netherlands if we are to contextualize farming in Brazil or Cameroon or The Banaue Rice Terraces in The Philippines. So: field trip! Last Wednesday, from 9am to 6pm. Oh yes, and there was no yellow school bus.
The trip took us into Holland’s Groene Hart, or Green Heart. It’s the rural land between the province’s horseshoe of cities: Rotterdam, Utrecht, Amsterdam, and Den Haag. Much of this land has actually been reclaimed from the sea – one dairy farm we visited used to be a lake – and averages about 3 meters below sea level. A morning view from the top of the restored Hazerwoude water tower gave us a look at where we’d be cycling:
We arrived at the de Jong dairy farm, were welcomed with coffee (and cream) and cookies, and received an introduction and tour of the farm. We hopped off our bikes a bit winded and a bit chilly to enter the barn I was in heaven.
Mr. de Jong inherited the farm from his grandfather, who kept about 20 dairy cows. He was at capacity then; milking each cow by hand yielded about 6,000 L of milk per cow per year. Today, the farm raises 130 dairy cows thanks to mechanized milking systems. One cow now has a yearly yield around 10,000 L of milk. This little thing was just born the day before:
I also learned about the European dairy quota, which places a ceiling on the amount of milk every farmer is allowed to produce and sell. This policy was a response to the crazy surplus of milk and butter throughout Europe in the 1980s. Milk and butter was overflowing over here! In effect, the de Jong’s milk income is capped or limited by this policy. While their farm is valued at around 5 million euros,the actual profit they see is just enough for one family. As a foreigner, it was inspiring to hear a Dutchman talk about his land; this place I’m just visiting is the same place giving him (and his animals) a job, a livelihood, meaning. We also passed greenhouses (“glass cities”) and flower farms that seemed to go on forever.
The trip ended at my professor’s house with a recap of the day (and more tea & cookies). He and his wife raise a few chickens in the backyard. Just beyond, the green, green lawn hugs the canal. And the thatched roof! Plus, see the trees below? To the left of the patio furniture? Apple and pear. Best apple I have ever had! And the pears fell right off the branches into our hands. I was almost weak in the knees.